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One study looked at thousands of Danes, aged 50 to 65. Those who started cycling and kept with it had a 25 percent lower risk of developing heart disease over 15 years than those who did not cycle, researchers found.
Also, Danes who regularly used their bikes for recreation or commuting had 11 to 18 percent fewer heart attacks during a 20-year follow-up, according to the study. The results were published Oct. 31 in the journal Circulation.
"Finding time for exercise can be challenging for many people, so clinicians working in the field of cardiovascular risk prevention should consider promoting cycling as a mode of transportation," senior study author Anders Grontved said in a news release from the American Heart Association. He's an associate professor of physical activity epidemiology at the University of Southern Denmark.
Grontved's team cautioned that the study can't prove that cycling is a coronary cure-all. Still, the researchers believe that the benefits shown for regular bikers are a strong indicator that cycling can boost heart health.
Recreational and commuter biking is an easy way to make physical activity part of your routine in an informal fashion, said study author Kim Blond, a research assistant at the university.
"Based on the results, public health authorities, governments and employers ought to consider initiatives that promote bicycle riding as a way to support large-scale cardiovascular disease prevention efforts," Blond said.
The other study followed more than 20,000 Swedes in their 40s, 50s and 60s for a decade. Compared to those who did not cycle, those who regularly biked to work were significantly less likely to be obese, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. These are all major risk factors for heart disease.
"We found active commuting, which has the additional advantages of being time-efficient, cheaper and environmentally friendly, is also great for your health," said senior study author Paul Franks, a professor in the department of clinical sciences at Lund University in Sweden.
This is a message that "many patients will embrace more readily than being told to join a gym, go for a jog or join a sports team," Franks said.
The researchers estimated that maintaining or switching to bike commuting may have prevented 24 percent of obesity cases, 6 percent of high blood pressure diagnoses, 13 percent of high cholesterol diagnoses, and 11 percent of diabetes cases.
It's never too late to benefit from an active lifestyle, Franks added. "People who switched from passive to active commuting saw considerable gains in their cardiovascular health," he said.
The study was published Oct. 31 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
-- Robert Preidt
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